Through working within the film industry, there is a phrase that is often used with great pleasure from the creative minds behind the camera. “The look and feel” of a film is the representative of a filmmaker’s flourish of creativity and the accent to their contribution to the final product.
However, where this is often a term used within the context of onscreen aesthetics such as sweeping beauty shots from the cinematographer or the moving scores of the musical composer, today we move into the work of illustrator and graphic designer Maggie Cousins.
Her work is not exclusively limited to film, however it has influenced an important aspect of a film's commercial appeal to the audience. As Sarah Ball’s short film Baggage currently tours film festivals across the globe, it is Cousins’ contribution to the end title graphic that audiences will see. By hand-lettering social media graphics, which were then animated, the final look and feel that the audience experiences is accredited to her.
Cousins is a trained graphic designer by trade, graduating from Bournemouth College of Art and Design. Beginning her career with her own design and branding agency, she was quick to learn the ins and outs of the world of commercial branding and logos. Her formula for success was clear. “We were very early into the internet. I am someone who always likes to look holistically at everything; I don’t see things as just compartmentalised. I think that is quite a useful tool if you are a designer.”
Cousins soon found her business expanding and, although successful, she found the creative side to her career to be side-lined. “I was wearing suits and going to lots of boardroom meetings; not doing anything creative. McCann Erickson approached me and I sold the company to McCann Erickson, one of the biggest advertising and communications companies in the world…My company became their new media department.”
Cousins moved on to her next business venture with a product designer, contributing to one of the earliest app programmes prior to the existence of 3G internet. “We were basically hopping here, there, and everywhere all around Europe with various networks trying to sell our application, saying this was the future to technology people in the network.”
The pitch was initially met with confusion from western phone networks. Cousins would meet many pioneers of mobile phone technology too early for her company’s contribution to be fully realised. “It was like when I was talking to clients about the internet, and they say stop telling me to want a website, I don’t want a website, and then they catch on. So wind the clock forward and now I’m talking to Virgin and Vodafone, telling them that this is an entertainment device and you will be watching video and they’re looking at me like "You must be mental lady".”
Catching the winds of technological change too early, Cousins found herself in a world not ready for the innovations she saw before any of them. Deciding against any further business ventures of this kind, Cousins moved back to her base love of art: until the life-changing decision came for her to relocate to New York.
“I’ve got all of those years of experience, before brand was called brand essentially…The good thing about New York is that they don’t tend to use those very narrow boxes that we use, they just call themselves creatives. Because all things are interconnected…even the mobile project was a creative product…I believe people have a very narrow definition of what creativity is.” As Cousins began her new life in New York, the amalgamation of her experience helped her contribute to film sets; something completely new yet again. Her vast knowledge of design, accompanied with a hobby of furniture building, placed her on production and graphic design roles in short films.
Cousins found herself, once again, carrying her expertise to new ground. Taking on the stylisation of other artists' work for promotional causes would inherently require a different touch to the work the designer of technological brands, for example, would typically produce: but Cousins, adaptable in the face of change, cites one of her influences as a graphic designer. “I’m a huge fan of Saul Bass who did a lot of iconic and very famous work with film titles and film posters. If you do go to college and [graphic design] is your section, you will come across him.”
Maggie Cousins had taken on huge change in her life, and began an exciting new path in New York. Whilst still a much sought-after designer for various brands either side of the Atlantic, New York would be the home to her major foray into film design and another new direction for her work.Continued in Part Two.